Program Turns Students to Engineers on a Quarter Scale

The American Society of Agricultural Engineers holds a detailed design competition that aims to make sure the equipment you buy keeps improving. Here's a roundup about the competition and the winners.

Published on: Aug 8, 2005

The engine labored forward, grinding ahead as it drove a tractor weighed down with more than 3,100 pounds of weight and dragging a sled weighing another 8,000 pounds. With that kind of weight you might envision a good-sized machine at work. Instead, the machine was driven by an 16 horsepower engine as part of a design competition held by the American Society of Agricultural Engineers.

>>> Part of the competition involves tractor weigh-in and a wait for the pull track to be readied. Competitors compete in several pull classes.

The 1/4 Scale Tractor Design Competition is a unique way for agricultural engineering students to turn school-book learning into iron-bound reality. Participating teams get a look at the rules every September, and if they're "in" they get a 16-horsepower two-cylinder Vanguard engine from Briggs & Stratton, and four tires from Bridgestone/Firestone.

And the 2005 winner - Oklahoma State University - was a repeat of the 2004 event grabber with their latest machine. The group scored well across the board, including in the pull to walk away with top honors. For a complete list of winners and more pictures scroll to the end of this story.

Following the rules

The detailed rules define dry weight of the machine (850 pounds), dimensions allowed, and the types of transmissions allowed - for example, no stock continuously variable transmission.

>>> Kansas State University - in the final heavy weight "fun" competition - carried more than 3,000 pounds of weight and made the longest pull of the sled with 8,000 pounds on board.

Given those design constraints the student engineering teams go to work putting together a machine. The tractor must be designed with ergonomics, safety and manufacturability in mind. The result after nine months of design and build work (which is really 8 months of design and one month of build for many) should be a machine that can pull a sled down a track.

But more than a pull competition, the teams must also develop design papers and even present their product to a "management team" that evaluates the information provided in the context of the customer identified and the finished product work.

Why is this important for farmers? These student engineers are challenged with real world issues before they leave school, and they get information from veteran engineers and consultants who've faced tough customers like you. That's invaluable help that the student can carry their entire career.

Putting new technology to work

The students get a chance to apply technology to their designs. They're using electronics in controlling their machines like never before. During maneuverability practice (yes that's another part of the competition), the Michigan State University team had a laptop plugged into the controller to tweak a feature or two.

You'd also find electronic controllers on the Kansas State tractor running the powertrain. The University of Illinois team used a Pocket PC personal digital assistant and a wireless network to tweak their machine's performance, even developing specialized software they called PullSmart that would manage engine and drivetrain performance.

The major tractor makers are key sponsors of this competition, working together to promote ag engineer education.

During the awards ceremony on the last night, Jerry Wille, president, ASAE, told students in the room to look around. "These will be your colleagues when you leave school. You can make lasting connections in this program that will help you in the future," he notes. Sponsors included AGCO, Briggs & Stratton, Case, Caterpillar, Deere & Co., Kubota and New Holland. Other supporters include Campbell Scientific, Central City Scale, Claas, Great Plains Manufacturing, RCI Engineering and the Kentucky Corn Growers Association.

Winners for 2005

1st Place - Oklahoma State University
2nd Place - Kansas State University
3rd Place - University of Kentucky
4th Place - Purdue University
5th Place - (tie) - University of Illinois and Penn State University

Oklahoma State University topped the competition for the second year.

Category winners

Here's a list of category winners along with photos of their machines:

In the Written Design Report Category - University of Nebraska.

In the Performance Competition - the entertaining tractor pulls - Kansas State University.

The Teamwork Trophy went to the University of Wyoming, which also took home the Craftsmanship Award. Interestingly, this group was made up of ag education majors aiming to have this machine used in classrooms across the state in an innovative new program.

The competition offers a number of recognition awards in several areas, what follows is a look at those categories and pictures of the winners:

Appearance - University of Illinois

Sportsmanship Award - University of Arizona

Rookie of the Year - Nicholls State University (Louisiana)

Manufacturability Award - Texas A&M

Serviceability Award - University of Nebraska

Safety Award - Oklahoma State University

Maneuverability Award - University of Kentucky

Ergonomics Award - Michigan State University